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Published in Print: May 8, 2002, as Calif. Board Picks ETS To Run Testing Program

Calif. Board Picks ETS To Run Testing Program

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The Educational Testing Service, which only recently broke into the state accountability market for K-12 students, has won the coveted endorsement of the California state school board to conduct its testing program, starting next year.

Tests administered by the Princeton, N.J.-based ETS are expected to replace the Stanford Achievement Test-9th Edition, the cornerstone of the state assessment system for California students over the past five years.

Under the new, three-year contract, which is still being hammered out, the California Achievement Test (6th edition), another norm-referenced exam, published by CTB/McGraw-Hill, would be given. In addition, the ETS would work with the state on the continued development of standards-based tests in English, math, history/social science, and science. Those tests, which measure how well students have learned the state's content standards, eventually will become the anchor for the state's school rating system.

California currently tests about 4.5 million students annually under its Standardized Testing and Reporting program, or STAR. The program has included the Stanford-9, a norm-referenced test that compares students' performance with that of youngsters nationally, as well as the California Standards Tests.

The ETS, which landed a three-year, $50.3 million contract to administer the California High School Exit Exam in 2001, is best known for its administration of the SAT college-admissions test. California is its largest client in the K-12 arena.

"We're real happy about this," said Kurt M. Landgraf, ETS' president and chief executive officer. "It's very important to the future of ETS and starts us in a very new and broad direction that we've wanted to go in for several years."

Expanding into the K-12 assessment market is one of the nonprofit company's five basic priorities for growth. ("Former DuPont Executive New Head of ETS," July 12, 2000.)

"This allows us now to move to what I believe is one of the most important areas of assessment," Mr. Landgraf said, "and that is assessing incremental improvements and capabilities in the K-12 market segment."

'Markedly Superior'

In selecting the ETS by a 6-2 vote late last month, the California state board accepted the recommendation of Delaine Eastin, the state superintendent of public instruction. Ms. Eastin chose the ETS over three other testing contractors, including Harcourt Educational Measurement, the San Antonio-based company that produces the Stanford-9 and currently manages the STAR program. Because the ETS is the current contractor for the high school exam, Ms. Eastin said, "we will experience increased continuity of standardized testing in our state."

She also said the ETS submission was "markedly superior" to the other proposals on the development of the state's standards- based exams.

State officials anticipate that the new three-year program will cost less than the current one. The estimated state-testing budget for 2003 to 2005 is $181.5 million. The exact amount of the ETS contract is still being negotiated. The contract will go before the state board for approval next month.

Concerns About Continuity

Board members Nancy Ichinaga and Erika I. Goncalves voted against the shift to the ETS, in part because of concerns raised by some district officials about maintaining continuity in the program.

"It's just the latest example of California constantly changing the assessment instrument," said James A. Fleming, the superintendent of the 47,000-student Capistrano schools. "Just about the time we get used to one approach, the state makes a change."

Since 2000, California has set annual growth targets for schools using a numeric system known as the Academic Performance Index, or API. Schools that meet their targets are eligible for cash awards, while those that don't may be eligible for state intervention and, ultimately, penalized.

The index has been criticized for its heavy reliance on the Stanford-9, which was never designed to measure the state's content standards. Standards-based tests in English/language arts were added to the index in 2001. In the future, the API will include the California Achievement Test, more standards-based tests, and the high school exit exam.

"The idea is that they're going to be focusing more on the state standards, both in the test and in the accountability index, so it seems like it's a positive move," said Jim Stack, the director of the achievement-assessments office for the 60,000-student San Francisco district.

The ETS has promised that scores from the California Achievement Test can be equated with those on the Stanford-9 so that no disruption occurs in tracking schools' progress under the accountability system.

"We've known for some time that the contract for the norm-referenced-test component of the STAR system was going to end, and that there would be a new norm-referenced test," said Edward H. Haertel, a professor of education at Stanford University who chairs the technical-design group that advises the state on the API.

While the changeover will inevitably have some impact, he said, the state has tried to minimize that by shifting more weight to the standards-based exams.

"I just wish we were moving faster along that track," said Mr. Fleming of Capistrano.

In a statement, Ms. Eastin noted that the subcontractor responsible for scoring and reporting the STAR program, National Computer Systems, would remain the same and should provide additional continuity. Even if the state had stayed with Harcourt, students would likely have taken a newer version of the test next year.

Vol. 21, Issue 34, Pages 14,18

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